Sober-curious? Here’s how to navigate the holidays if you're not drinking.

·4-min read
How to navigate holiday dinners and parties when you're sober-curious. (Photo: Getty)
How to navigate holiday dinners and parties when you're sober-curious. (Photo: Getty)

Over the past few years, there has been a rise in the sober-curious movement. As a result, a growing number of people are either being more conscious about their alcohol choices or trying out sobriety to see what they think.

While this is a personal decision, it can come up a lot in conversation during the holidays, especially if you used to drink fairly regularly. That raises a big question: How are you supposed to navigate this socially, given that so many holiday parties, dinners and events involve alcohol?

On a macro level, it's important to remember that you don't have to explain yourself, etiquette expert Jacqueline Whitmore tells Yahoo Life. "Some people feel like if they say, 'I'd like a soda' after being asked what they'd like to drink feel like they have to come back and explain why they're not drinking alcohol," Whitmore says. "You don't have to offer any kind of explanation."

That said, the topic of you not drinking is likely to come up, whether it's with close friends, the host or curious partygoers. "People tend to make comments, especially if you're not doing what is considered the social norm," clinical psychologist Thea Gallagher, an assistant professor at NYU and co-host of the Mind in View podcast, tells Yahoo Life. "Sometimes, other people can feel triggered and defensive, even though you're not saying or doing anything that would technically impact their lifestyle. Some may also just be curious about what inspired you to stop drinking."

With that in mind, it's a good idea to think in advance about how you'll navigate this, etiquette expert Elaine Swann tells Yahoo Life. For starters, she recommends telling the people close to you ahead of time "so that you can have a support system in place." This way, Swann says, "they can try to help circumvent the issue in the event that you start to experience any outside pressure." That's better and considered more socially appropriate than making a big announcement without anyone knowing in advance, she says.

That said, Whitmore emphasizes that there's no need to give the host a heads-up in advance or anything.

Even if you choose to disclose your sober-curious status — which, again, you don't have to — Whitmore recommends being honest about it (if you're asked) and then moving on. "You could say, 'I'm going through a 30-day detox this month' or 'I like alcohol but it doesn't like me' or whatever is going on in your life," Whitmore says. "You don't need to go into detail."

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However, Swann suggests avoiding deeply personal details at social events that may make other guests feel uncomfortable, such as talking about your family history of alcoholism or a bad experience you personally had with alcohol.

After giving a short response as to why you're not drinking, Swann recommends that you "pivot" the conversation. "You can just say, 'But anyway, how are you? How was the year for you?'" she says. "This way, the conversation doesn't linger and people don't dwell on your comments."

If you tend to freeze up when you're put on the spot, Gallagher recommends practicing in advance what you might say. "Be prepared for all reactions," she says.

If you're wary of being asked about why you're not drinking, Whitmore suggests carrying around a mocktail and just not saying anything about it. "You can drink sparkling water with a lime in it, cranberry juice and soda water on the rocks, or ginger ale out of a Champagne glass — they all look like alcohol," she says.

Given that many people bring bottles of wine or beer to an event, it can be tempting to bring a non-alcoholic beverage, but Swann says that's likely not needed given that there are very likely to be cocktail mixers such as seltzer, soda and juice around.

If you want to bring a host gift (and etiquette says it's a good idea), Swann suggests showing up with "something more interesting" than a bottle of wine. "Small kitchen gadgets, towels for the kitchen, fresh herbs, a little spa set ... it can be something useful and meaningful to the host," says Swann, "whether you're practicing sobriety or not."

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